Galerie Marcel Bernheim, Paris (acquired from the above in December 1936)
Galería Müller, Buenos Aires
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1936)
Thence by descent to the present owners
Paris, Les grands maîtres français, 1936, no. 11
Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, El Impresionismo Francés en las Colecciones Argentinas, 1962, illustrated in the catalogue
Joachim Pissarro & Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro. Catalogue critique des peintures, Paris, 2005, vol. III, no. 778, illustrated in colour p. 515
During the years spent in Eragny Pissarro was to capture and rework his vision of the surrounding countryside endlessly. Eragny was for the artist a pastoral idyll that provided copious painterly inspiration allowing Pissarro to eventually move away from his more Impressionist paintings and into the Neo-Impressionist works that dominated his art in the late 1880s and early 1890s. In Pissarro’s opinion, Impressionism was already over in 1883, and it was at this time that he embraced the Neo-Impressionist technique, under the influence of Seurat, who proclaimed Pissarro to be the first of the Impressionist painters to convert to the Neo-Impressionist style. Pissarro and Seurat were developing the pointillist technique independently of each other, and when they finally met in 1885, they were keen to exchange ideas on colour theories and scientific research into the nature and effect of colour. The present work is a stunning example of Pissarro’s own version of pointillism, using short, fragmented brushstrokes to capture the dazzling effect of a bright day and to create vivid colour contrasts between light and shadow.
Pissarro oscillated between depicting the urban and the rural during his years in Eragny, frequently travelling to the harbour cities of Rouen and Le Havre as well as making numerous trips to Paris, where he would reconvene with friends and art dealers, and London. Returning exhausted from these trips, Pissarro took solace in the repose of Eragny and worked assiduously to capture the soft changing of light and the colours woven into the fields surrounding him. In the present work Pissarro frames the spire of a church bell tower between the solid feathered bodies of two haystacks. The steep spire of the bell tower splits the view in two leading the eye upwards and acting as a compositional device, heralding the style of Cézanne who became a regular painting companion to Pissarro.
Haystacks form a recurring theme across Pissarro’s œuvre, appearing as a triangular golden monument as early as 1873 in his La meule, Pontoise and then reappearing in his Eragny paintings, settled between the trees and pathways near his home. Haystacks were a common sight in rural France as each village did not possess its own thresher and the wait for a machine could take months. As a result, these monolithic structures of hay piled across the fields, their structure dependent on the region in which they were gathered. In depicting them Pissarro continued the long tradition of portraying the French countryside as it was seen by Jean-François Millet; a tradition also upheld by his fellow Impressionist Monet whose famed Meules series, began in 1890 and inspired by the haystacks in neighboring Giverny, were to form one of the most important series in the western art historical canon (fig. 2). The haystacks in the present work are painted in warm earthy tones and act as a gateway leading the viewer's eye towards a halcyon landscape just out of reach.
The calm of Eragny was in stark contrast to the artist’s former residence in the more suburban town of Pontoise and this new landscape provided Pissarro with ample experimentation. Joachim Pissarro writes that ‘In Eragny, no signs of industry could be observed for miles. […] Varied expanses of pasture and cultivated land complete the visual field. However, Eragny 's earthly space is not banal. For twenty years Pissarro concentrated on this very confined area, on the visual material offered by the stretch of meadows lying in front of him, informed by poplars, gates, the river, and produced over two hundred paintings of these motifs’ (J. Pissarro, op. cit., p. 225). Through his continuing fascination with the nuances of light Pissarro elevates the humble haystacks and the proud bell tower of the church in Les meules et le clocher de l’église à Eragny, transforming the scene into an Impressionist mastery of atmosphere.
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